The Taxon as an Ontological Problem

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Although the term taxon is one of the most common concepts in biology, a range of its meanings cannot be comprehended by an universal definition. Usually, biologists construe their knowledge of "the same" taxon by substantially different interpretations, so they find themselves in need either to justify this "multiplication of taxon essences", or to surmount their plurality unifying its interpretations into a single explanation of what a taxon is. In both cases, an ontological status ("reality") of that taxon is questioned. Therefore, discrepancy between universality of the taxon concept in biology and unavoidable plurality of its interpretations can be regarded as a source of problem of the taxon ontology. The present work aims to clarify the premises of this discrepancy using phenomenological approach. Three ways of the taxon positing (as a class, as a place in the world, and as a individualized body) have been distinguished. Taxon as a class is established by common essence that is shared by a set of living beings. These living beings are regarded as speculative objects beyond an idea of the world, i. e. as objects of the experimental science. A question about ontology of taxon as a class refers to the scholastic problem of universalia; its status can be defined within the scope of the nominalism/realism opposition. Taxon as a place of common appearance of the specimens is regarded in the context of the etiological relations unifying various entities into the entire world. Taxon as a place refers to a certain position in the Natural System that is construed as an etiological map of the world. In this case a specimen of a living being is known as a curiosity, i. e. representant of its relationships as well as of the place of its origin. Ontological status of a taxon as a place is to be clarified within the framework of the natural/artificial opposition. The positing of a taxon as a collective body marked off by limits of joint survival of living beings is characteristic for biology in the strict sense which arose in the very beginning of the 19 century. A taxon as a body established by the techniques of disciplinary power sensu M. Foucault extended from the human bodies to bodies of other living beings. The ontological status of a taxon as a collective body can be defined within the scope of the wild/domesticated opposition. Therefore, the discrepancy between the universality of the taxon concept and the plurality of its interpretations is underlayed by interpenetration of three distinct modi of taxon establishing. Distinguishing between these three modi can clarify sources of ontological problems concerned with the term taxon in each case when they arise.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-222
Number of pages22
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Disciplinary power
  • Embodiment
  • Natural system
  • Nominalism
  • Ontology
  • Phenomenology
  • Realism
  • Reality of taxa
  • Species problem
  • Systematics
  • Taxon
  • Taxonomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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